Stage: World Premiere of The Girls

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s new musical, The Girls, based on the British film Calendar Girls, premiered to an electric atmosphere and a standing ovation at Leeds Grand Theatre at its world premiere last Tuesday. Both Barlow and Firth took the stage during its curtain call, along with the original women who created an alternative calendar of nude members of the Women’s Institute, leaving the crowd in awe of this brilliant new musical. Although moments of the show were fairly predictable for both newcomers and fans of the original film, it doesn’t override the overall heart-warming tale based on a true story.

It is no easy task in the current industry to create a successful new musical, but they appear to have managed it; the show‘s soundtrack was pleasant throughout, with a nod to Barlow’s contemporary talent. Although at times it felt that a reprise of Take That’s ‘Shine’ was about to break into the auditorium, the upbeat rhythm of the music boded well for the juxtaposition of the more dramatic and frequently emotional moments of the show. This afforded prevalence to an excellent aspect of the show; a reference to how the themes of death and mortality were presented. Instead of relying on a dramatic impact to emphasise such moving themes, it was modestly portrayed which left the heart ever warmer during moments of reflection that occurred throughout the show.

However, it would appear that whilst Barlow and Firth have created a new show which promises to be an enthralling night for audiences of all kinds, it cannot be overlooked that there were elements where The Girls came across as slightly basic for the more informed musical theatre enthusiast. For example, the narrative structure of the show was mostly explored throughout act one, leaving act two to conclude all of the characters’ journeys through uninspiring solos, as opposed to drawing its main plot together in a more unique and innovative way. This was portrayed better through the use of a couple of the musicals main melodies during certain moments within the show.

While a show such as The Girls appeals to a particular demographic, it is an inspiring reference to suggest the possible direction of musicals in the near future. The cast of The Girls are to be commended for their work in this show – each performer gave memorable performances, handling the theme of nudity well and in a typically British manner. The younger actors performed with high levels of energy and the upbeat feel of the ensemble was ever prominent.

Although The Girls was predictable in places, and some elements of the set (such as the numerous household items being painted green to represent the hills of Yorkshire) felt redundant, the show itself left spectators touched and on this particular night, rather excited. Whether this was due to the presence of Mr Barlow is yet to be seen, but do go see this musical before it no doubt moves on to its inevitable run as a hit UK touring production.

Mark McDougall

Image: Matt Crockett

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